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Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Utah reconciling history with Indian Residential Schools


A single building stands on the grounds that once contained an Indigenous boarding school, Aug. 26, 2021, in Panguitch, Utah. There are six known boarding schools within Utah, with the largest one located near Brigham City. The school in Panguitch primarily housed Utah Paiutes and Kaibab Paiutes Native Americans and this school operated from 1904 to 1909. (Chris Caldwell/The Spectrum via AP)


The Indian Student Placement Program was sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was run from 1947 to 2000. This program started in 1947 but didn’t get sponsored by the church until 1954, according to the church. The program had missionaries approach Native American families and offer to have their children move in with an LDS foster family during the school year and return for the summer.

A 1976 document from the church identifies the objective of the Indian Student Placement Program as “to provide Lamanite children with educational, spiritual, social, and cultural opportunities that would contribute to their leadership development.”

Lamanite is a term from the Book of Mormon which refers to a group of people that settled in the Americas from Israel but turned their back on the Gospel and were cursed with dark skin. The church believed it had a mandate to help the Lamanites and convert them.

The president of the LDS Church at the time that document was released was Spencer W. Kimball, a staunch advocate for LDS outreach to Native Americans who described this program as an “inspiration from the Lord.”

In total, the Indian Student Placement Program placed 50,000 Native American children in homes that were in good standing within the LDS church, as reported by the Atlantic. These kids had to be baptized before entering the program with some instances of the children having wet hair from their baptism when they were introduced to their host family.

In 2018, the LDS church settled a lawsuit with members of the Navajo Nation that alleged they were sexually abused while in this program. The terms of the settlement were confidential and included no admission of wrongdoing by the church.

This was just one of many Native American assimilation efforts that were taken in the 20th century. In total there were over 489 residential schools in the U.S. and Canada, with the last residential school on the continent being shut down in 1996, according to the Union of Ontario Indians.

Assimilation programs in the 20th century didn’t just target Native American children. Another main policy was called “termination” which was a policy meant to terminate federal recognition and supervision of Native American Tribes and take more of their land.

The U.S. enacted termination policies in 1953, removing Indigenous people from their land. The land was sold and the people were relocated into urban areas and were promised good jobs. However, when Native Americans were relocated to cities the work was often less than rewarding, many felt out of place, and the housing offered was often sub-par.

Termination policy was led by Utah Sen. Arthur Watkins, who sold this policy was a way to stop Native Americans from being “wards of the government.” In a 1957 article written by Watkins, he argued that termination policies should be enacted by the government “as rapidly as possible.”

In total, termination policies enacted across the country took somewhere between 1.3 million to 2.5 million acres of land from Native Americans and more than 12,000 people lost tribal affiliation.

This termination policy worked poorly, with around 50% of relocated Native Americans deciding to return to reservations. These policies were phased out during the ’60s and during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Indian Civil Rights Act which called for the end of termination and instead allows tribes to self-determine their futures.


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